Support HB 269 – Ensure a Common Sense Response to the Possession of Marijuana

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HB 269 would make possession of under one ounce of marijuana a fine only offense ($250/first offense & $500/subsequent offenses). A conviction for possession of under one ounce of marijuana would not appear on the individual’s criminal record.

Alabama is turning otherwise law-abiding people into felons for merely possessing marijuana. Under current law, a person arrested for possession of marijuana can be convicted of unlawful possession of marijuana in the first degree (a felony) if they have a previous marijuana possession conviction, regardless of the amount. This is not just a problem on paper. In 2015, unlawful possession of marijuana in the 1st degree was the sixth most frequent felony offense at conviction (901 convictions). Between October 2010 and September 2015 there were 5,014 felony marijuana possession convictions. It’s time for Alabama to take the term “felony” seriously and ensure that individuals who possess marijuana for personal use are not turned into felons.

The war on marijuana wastes money and misuses law enforcement resources. Despite a war on marijuana now stretching into its fourth decade, prohibition has failed to eradicate or even diminish its use. In 2010 alone, Alabama spent $13,286,722 on the enforcement of its marijuana possession laws. These arrests involve a judge, a clerk, deputies, and prosecutors, all paid for by Alabama’s taxpayers. It’s time for Alabama to focus its resources on strategies and programs that will help keep our communities safe – investigating serious crimes and investing in substance abuse and mental health programs. It’s time to end this failed war.

The War on Marijuana Disproportionately Impacts African Americans. While African Americans and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates, in 2015 African Americans were over four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Alabama.* To put it another way, in 2015 African Americans made up just 26.8% of Alabama’s population, yet made up over 61% of all marijuana possession arrests.* The war on marijuana is enforced along color lines.

The War on Marijuana needlessly ensnares Alabamians in the criminal justice system. In 2015, more Alabamians were arrested for the possession of marijuana than any other drug offense (2,642 arrests – 26 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession).* The impact of an arrest for a drug offense is often significant and can last for years. Even an arrest for the possession of a small amount of marijuana can affect an individual’s access to student financial aid, jobs, and the custody of their child. The war on marijuana comes with a tremendous human and financial cost.

HB 269 would create a fairer, more compassionate, and smarter response to the possession of marijuana.

* This number just reflects data reported to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency in its 2015 Crime in Alabama Report, available at http://www.alea.gov/Documents/Documents/CrimeInAlabama-2015.pdf.

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